Library facility reads like ‘fragment’ of its landscape

New municipal building blends into surrounding Niagara Escarpment
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
By Michelle Ervin

The new Waterdown Library and Civic Centre is designed to read like a ‘fragment’ of the Niagara Escarpment over which it cantilevers. RDHA reflected the look of the rocky ridge by cladding the 23,500-square-foot municipal building with slabs of limestone, said design partner Tyler Sharp.

But just as readers are cautioned not to judge books by their covers, it would be a mistake to judge the new facility by its façade. Its compact profile is deceptive, belying the intricate interiors within.

“There’s a three-metre drop from the high point to the low point,” explained Sharp. “We’ve worked with this topography in order to create a single-storey building that exists on six different levels.”

The $6.8-million facility, completed this past summer, consolidated two libraries located in the small villages of Millgrove and Waterdown. The new building replaced the former town hall in Flamborough, which became part of the City of Hamilton after amalgamation in 2001.

As the aging existing library facilities reached their ends of life, there was an opportunity to achieve economies of scale, recalled Chuck Alkerton, manager of facilities operations and maintenance, public works department.

“We owned the property at the site already, so it made sense to build a new facility there to service Flamborough and Waterdown,” said Alkerton.

Beyond the business case, the project also responded to the advance of technology, the growth of the community — particularly the rise in young families — and the shift from servicing a mostly rural to an increasingly suburban community, observed branch manager Dawna Wark.

“The needs and expectations of the community were different, which is why a complete new build was needed,” said Wark.

Some of the features that answered these different needs and expectations included an automated materials return, a dedicated children’s area and programming space. That’s just in the library — the new facility also contains an archive, municipal services centre and two seniors’ recreation rooms.

The recreation rooms are on the lower level, where visitors enter the building from Dundas Street. A 1 in 25-sloped walkway leads to the municipal service centre on the middle level, which has a rear parking lot. The 1 in 25-sloped walkway continues through the upper level, where it opens out into the four terraces of the library.

“At the last terrace, the large library reading room — which is exactly one storey above the recreation rooms — attempts to harness view to the south, down the escarpment all the way to Lake Ontario,” said Sharp.

Facilitating this view was the capless (hardware-free) glazed curtain wall system, which also paved the way for daylighting by way of energy-saving sensors. This is only one of the sustainable features incorporated into the project.

Among other sustainable features are bio-swales, a green roof and recycled materials such as Douglas fir planks. Originally installed as ceiling baffles in Hamilton Central Library, the planks had been taken down and stored on skids.

Sharp noticed the planks during a project meeting, and asked about their intended use. After learning that there wasn’t one, he inquired as to whether they could be repurposed for the project. The city ultimately signed off on the project’s recycling of the planks, which were milled, cut down and used to clad the interior walls.

Environmental considerations were nice-to-haves, since the project isn’t targeting any certifications. The 1 in 25 slope of the walkway, however, was a must-have, as it was required to meet the City of Hamilton’s accessibility guidelines.

Achieving this incline across six levels was no easy feat, to which Sharp attested.

“The manipulation of elevation and grade to make that happen was probably the most challenging part of the design process,” he said.

During construction, project manager Sam Gargarello said the City of Hamilton continued its increasingly common practice of engaging an independent third party to verify that everything runs as designed from day one.

“We focus on hiring a commissioning agent to make sure that the system operates optimally at the opening of the building,” he said.

Thereafter, a building automation system allows city staff to respond to issues such as “too hot, too cold” complaints from a central utility plant. Staff also look to the city’s energy policy, which establishes an acceptable temperature range of roughly 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.

With the building up-and-running, there is one quirk of the previous facility that has yet to materialize. An elevator that would take ‘unexplained trips’ led to musings that it could be haunted, according to the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society’s The History of Waterdown Library.

Local lore had it that the ‘ghost’ might be that of Alexander Brown, who is considered to be a founding father of both the library and Waterdown. His tombstone, along with the tombstone of his wife, Merren, was installed near the elevator around the time the equipment began operating erratically.

The tombstones were recently unveiled in their new home in the archives at the Waterdown Library and Civic Centre.

“It remains to be seen if the ghost will follow,” the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society quipped in The History of Waterdown Library.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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